Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Suicide Watch

The night of the Oscars is always an interesting night to drive a cab in New York City. Nearly everyone is into it and so it provides a whole nightful of conversation possibilities. Also there's a big rush of business around midnight when it's finally over and people are leaving "Oscar parties" and going back to their own apartments. So that's extra money on a Sunday night which is ordinarily a slow time on the streets.

Of course not everyone sits through the whole, four-hour thing. These are the people, when they get in a cab, who can give their driver an update on what's happened on the show so far. One such person, a man whose age I would estimate to be in his late'30s, jumped in at Houston and 6th at around 9:30 en route to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I asked him if he'd been watching the Academy Awards - he had been - and this began what I thought would be a typical back-and-forth about the show.

But you never know with whom you're chatting in a taxicab, especially in New York where there is so much variety among the taxi-riding population. How was I to know that this guy was on the brink of suicide?

But let me back up...

I don't think I've ever known a movie that had such excellent word of mouth as Slumdog Millionaire. "You've got to see this movie!" I was told from all directions: by passengers in my cab, by friends, and even in a post card from India from my brother. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I saw it myself with my pal, Annie. And, I must say, I immediately became one of the converted. Here was a movie that had it all - action, romance, humor, rags to riches, villains, children, heroes, characters you could really root for, and things to be learned about a part of the world we Americans for the most part know little of.

Being something of a writer myself, I particularly admired the originality and brilliance of the script. I know a little bit about the world of script submissions and script rejections, and I mentioned to Annie on our way out of the theater that this story was so good that it must have created quite a buzz in the Hollywood community, maybe even resulting in a frantic bidding war for its rights.

So now fast forward to this guy getting in my cab on Sunday night. I asked him if anything interesting had happened on the show so far and according to him nothing much had, other than Slumdog Millionaire already picking up a couple of Oscars. Well, this set me off jabbering away about the wonderfulness of this movie. I asked my passenger if he'd seen it himself and he said he had not.

The guy was a good conversationalist so the speedbump of his not having seen the film didn't matter as far as our chat was concerned. We entered into one of those fast-moving discussions that's kind of like a maze of back and forth pinballs, one thing leading to another until you finally arrive at something rather remarkable that stops the conversation in its tracks, but then immediately starts it going off again in a new direction.

And the thing we arrived at was that he himself worked for a movie studio. As a reader of scripts, he said, among other things.

This was of great interest to me. I was curious to know how the process of script submission was done where he worked. What it came down to, he said, was that he deals with agents and known contacts who pitch a script to him or send it to him. He reads the script and either recommends it to a decision-making executive or rejects it. He said scripts come to him in great numbers, and he reads as many as 40 per month.

I realized I had an opportunity to verify what I'd thought after seeing Slumdog Millionaire. I asked him if he knew if there had been a buzz about the script that had set off a bidding war. And he said that there hadn't been. In fact, he said, it had been shopped around to all the major studios and no one wanted it.

This surprised me and I quipped that I wouldn't want to be the person at a studio who had rejected Slumdog Millionaire.

Uhh... wrong thing to have said.

Yes, you guessed it - this guy in my cab was that guy! He'd read the script of Slumdog Millionaire two years ago and had rejected it!

Now that was a "taxicab confession" if I'd ever heard one!

"Why didn't you want it?" I asked.

His reply was that first of all it was from India and Bollywood wasn't box office in the United States. But the main reason was that it had only one known "name" on board, the director of the movie, Danny Boyle. And he felt that wasn't enough to warrant the gamble of money invested to expected return.

"What does it cost to make a movie like that?" I wanted to know.

"Ten million dollars," he said.

I asked him if I might know any movies made from scripts he's read that he had recommended.

"Juno," he replied, "but the studio executives didn't agree and it went somewhere else."

"Which studio do you work for?"

"I'd rather not say."

"Why haven't you seen Slumdog Millionaire?"

"Too painful."

I was glad as we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge that there was no traffic holding us up. If I'd had to stop the cab in the middle of the bridge - who knows? - this guy might have been inclined to do something rash... there's the rail... there's the river... and on the other side of the bridge is Brooklyn with two million people watching Slumdog Millionaire win yet another goddamned fucking Oscar.

It may have been difficult for him to choose life.

A decision that couldn't have been any easier as the night wore on.

Hopefully, even if he did decide to end it all, he clicked here first for Pictures From A Taxi. And you should, too. Not end it all. Just click.